Disaster Assistance Timeline

Here is a timeline breaking down how your local emergency management services, first responders and other organizations will respond after a natural disaster. The response time and services available will depend on the location, scale and size of the disaster.

The First Few Hours

  1. Within minutes of a disaster, local and regional authorities may be dispatched to severely affected areas, including: law enforcement (sheriff or police officers), firefighters, emergency medical technicians (ambulance) and state or municipal service workers.
    • First responders will immediately go to top priority calls – injuries and to handle life hazards (downed trees and power lines).
  2. Pay close attention to instructions from emergency management and law enforcement agencies. There may be curfews in place for looting control and safety. Hazardous areas may also be restricted.
  3. Media will be doing their best to keep local, state and federal information coming to you. Listen to your radio for the latest updates.

    WHN TIP: Can’t get any local media stations?

    If you have the chance, use your cell phone and call a relative away from the disaster zone and ask them what the news stations are reporting about your situation. Use this time to update your family on your condition.

    WHN TIP: More Information

    Read our articles Media - Getting the Info You Need and How Media Reports Disasters to learn more about the media's role in disaster situations.

  4. The local Red Cross will also be working on gathering disaster response teams to assess the location and scale of damage. If the damage is widespread and affects many homes, they will set up temporary shelters in a predetermined location (i.e. community center, school, church). Read our article How the Red Cross Works to learn how the Red Cross assists individuals and families after disasters.

The Next 72 Hours

  1. Local law enforcement and agencies will be redirecting traffic, securing areas and homes and still be providing first responder emergency services.
  2. Contact your friends and family to let them know you are okay.
  3. Begin documenting the damage of the storm for insurance purposes.
  4. Contact your insurance company to begin the claims process.
  5. You may need to pick up supplies or call in a company to assist with securing your property. You may need to board up windows and doors and place tarps on roofs. Read our articles Securing Your Property and Hiring Damage Restorers for more tips and advice.

    WHN TIP: Contractors and Restorers

    Understand that contractors and restorers may be busy due to high demand. Don’t just hire the first contractor available – they may be available for a very good reason! Check their references or contact the Better Business Bureau before going ahead with their services.

  6. Your state governor will decide whether this disaster is a state emergency or not. If the governor declares a state of emergency, this will allow all government agencies to utilize and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities in order to help with the disaster. The National Guard in your state may also be deployed to assist with the efforts. NOTE: If the disaster was forecasted, such as a hurricane, a state of emergency may have been declared before the storm arrived.
  7. Media will continue with updates. Your newspaper may list local phone numbers and people to contact.
  8. The media might also be visiting your town and your neighborhood to take pictures, live shots and conduct interviews. Remember, it is your choice whether or not to grant an interview. It is OK to pause and reflect for a moment on your and your family’s welfare before you decide whether to answer their questions.
  9. Volunteers from many organizations and from the general public will begin to arrive to help assist with the cleanup effort. Want to help others? Read our article Volunteering After a Disaster to learn more.

After 72 Hours

  1. Depending on the extent of damage, the Red Cross may cease to assist with immediate needs such as food, clothing or shelter. You may be referred to other services or organizations for assistance.
  2. You may have received a claim check from your insurance company by this time. You can use this money to meet your immediate needs.
  3. You may need to start calling more companies for assistance with repairs, rebuilding and other contract work.
  4. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the President will decide whether this disaster should be a federally declared disaster or not. They may take days, weeks or even months on this decision. Read our article How a Disaster is Declared to learn more.
    • If your area has been declared a federal disaster area, head to FEMA online to apply for assistance. FEMA may also set up offices in your local area to help with questions regarding assistance. Read our article Filing for Federal Relief for tips and advice on the application process.
    • If they have not declared your disaster eligible for federal relief, be patient. In the meantime, turn to your insurance company, Red Cross and other local organizations for assistance.
  5. Volunteers may still be assisting with cleanup efforts or they may no longer be needed.

Other related articles:

-After a Disaster: Who Will Help You

-How Social Workers May Help You